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Nearly 200 Myanmar nationals arrested across Thailand

Authorities arrested nearly 200 Myanmar workers across Thailand in an eight-day span, a migrant assistance organization told Radio Free Asia this week. 

From Nov. 17 to 24, 199 Myanmar laborers were arrested across four provinces in Thailand for illegally entering the country, the group added. 

In Mae Sot, a Thai city which sits directly across from Kayin state, 121 workers were arrested while entering Thailand. Mae Sot is well-known for its high numbers of migrant workers and activists fleeing junta persecution, as well as frequent raids by local police and task forces in search of rebels.

In Ranong, Kanchanaburi, and Nonthaburi provinces, which also employ large numbers of migrant workers in the fishing and manufacturing sectors, 78 more people were arrested in the same week. 

The workers and brokers entered Mae Sot from Kayin state’s border town of Myawaddy. After arriving across the border, one person who declined to be named told RFA they were arrested by Thai authorities. 

Under a shared labor agreement, which supplies Thailand with a fixed number of Myanmar workers each year, migrant laborers can come legally to work in the neighboring country. 

However, long waiting times and high costs can force people into illegal routes, said Moe Kyaw, chairman of the Joint Action Committee for Burmese Affairs, adding that many who choose to come illegally are later arrested. 

“In Myanmar, there is no normal work. In Thailand, people have hopes of higher income, so they come. The legal route of the [labor Memorandum of Understanding] system can take from six months to one year,” he said. 

“Of course, people who want to come work in Thailand will choose to borrow money at high interest rates and take out a mortgage on their house, land and farms in order to cross the border illegally.”

Most Myanmar migrant workers will go from Mae Sot to Bangkok, where there are many jobs, he added. It’s also a place where workers stop on their way to Malaysia. 

RFA called the Myanmar embassy’s labor department in Mae Sot for more details about the arrests, but there was no response by the time of publication.

This year, over 3,000 illegal migrant workers have been arrested inside Thailand, including nearly 2,000 from Myanmar, according to a statement by Thailand’s Department of Employment.

The department inspected over 50,000 businesses employing foreign workers from October 2022 to Sept. 25, 2023. Within these workplaces, it found 3,464 migrants working illegally, nearly 2,000 of which were from Myanmar.

Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Mike Firn.